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Merrill Lynch's news sends market higher

It will get an infusion of cash from 2 sources and sell GE most of a finance operation.

NEW YORK - Stocks advanced sharply yesterday, boosted by news that Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. would receive an investment of up to $6.2 billion from two investment groups. The Dow Jones industrial average rose nearly 100 points.

Trading volume was light in an abbreviated pre-Christmas session.

Merrill Lynch provided the only significant news of the day. The investment firm said it was receiving a widely expected cash infusion from Singapore's government-controlled investment fund, Temasek Holdings, and U.S.-based money manager Davis Selected Advisors. The proceeds were expected to cushion Merrill's mortgage-related write-downs for the fourth quarter.

The brokerage also said it would sell most of its commercial-finance unit to GE Capital. Terms of the deal were not made public.

"The market is tacking on strong gains from Friday, a last-minute Santa Claus rally," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at the New York brokerage house Avalon Partners Inc. "The Merrill Lynch investment adds to stability in the market. I look at it as a vote of confidence on the part of foreign investors."

Yesterday's gains have some investors hoping for a year-end surge that often extends into the new year and can burnish portfolios. On Friday, the Dow rose more than 200 points and, along with the other major indexes, posted a gain of more than 1.5 percent for the session.

The Dow rose 98.68, or 0.73 percent, to 13,549.33 yesterday.

Broader market indexes also advanced. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 11.99, or 0.81 percent, to 1,496.45; and the Nasdaq composite index rose 21.51, or 0.80 percent, to 2,713.50.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 4.22 percent from 4.17 percent late Friday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Light, sweet crude oil rose 82 cents to $94.13 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Merrill Lynch fell $1.64, or 2.95 percent, to $53.90 after selling a stake in itself to strengthen its balance sheet. It joins a number of other global banks - including Citigroup Inc., UBS AG and Morgan Stanley - in securing a capital infusion to deal with losses from the credit crisis.

Merrill Lynch chief executive officer John Thain, who took over the position last month, has said he plans to use asset sales to help streamline the company.

Advancing issues led decliners by a ratio of 3-1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 1.21 billion shares.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 8.79, or 1.12 percent, to 794.39.

Stock markets in Japan were closed. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.70 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 1.70 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.21 percent.